ALBUM TITLE: Strauss
PERFORMER: Kiri Te Kanawa, Håkan Hagegård, Tatiana Troyanos, Simon Keenlyside, David Kuebler, Victor Braun, Michel Sénéchal, Dale Travis, Maria Fortuna, Craig Estep; San Francisco Opera Orchestra/Donald Runnicles; dir. Stephen Lawless (San Francisco, 1993)
CATALOGUE NO: 100 354
Richard Strauss’s final opera, a ‘conversation piece’ that charts a leisurely discussion about the merits and demerits of opera itself, might seem to be made for the small screen rather than the vast expanses of the opera house. This San Francisco production was filmed in 1993. Stephen Lawless’s staging, with period (late 18th-century) set and costumes, offers a fair degree of detail in many of the leading characterisations and in their interaction, but the stage lighting often registers as too dark.
Simon Keenlyside’s superb Flamand and David Kuebler’s soulful Olivier stand out as poet-and-composer rivals for the love of the Countess whose chateau is the setting for the action. Kiri Te Kanawa looks and often sounds glamorous as this aristocrat with refined tastes, though her German is indistinct and her delivery of the text bland.
She’s outclassed by Tatiana Troyanos as the actress Clairon, in one of her final appearances before her early death, and by Victor Braun’s expert La Roche – a portrait of the seen-it-all-yet-still-believes-in-it stage director. There’s a treasurable account of the prompter Monsieur Taupe from veteran Michel Sénéchal.
Donald Runnicles conducts a performance that maintains sensitivity and fluidity and misses none of Strauss’s musical in-jokes. The orchestra is assured and neat in the chamber-music textures.
Limited information in the booklet – only Runnicles, Te Kanawa and Troyanos are allotted biographies – and no extras on the disc itself. But as a performance of a late-Romantic masterpiece this has a good deal going for it. George Hall